Let us pray for the planned, historic meeting of Orthodox churches, the “Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church”. Not since the “Great Schism” of 1054 have all Orthodox churches formally met in council. The last council that Orthodoxy recognises took place in 787 AD. 55 years in the planning, the council is to meet beginning this coming Sunday (Orthodox Feast of Pentecost) on Crete.
Put “Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church” into the news part of a search engine and you will soon see that there are many tensions: words like “meltdown”, “not attending”, “derail”,…
Anglicans, who follow a similar ecclesiology to Orthodoxy, will soon recognise parallels – Orthodox Churches are a family of churches, independent, with no figure who can require churches to do anything… Istanbul-based Ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew I is the “first among equals” (cf. The Archbishop of Canterbury).
Those who remember the Vatican’s “unchurching” of some Christian communities and denominations (they were not to be called “churches” but “ecclesial communities“) will recognise parallels to Orthodox debates whether to call Roman Catholicism a “church”.
Here is one, not optimistic article: Pan-Orthodox Meltdown Ahead of Great Council?
Obviously, there is the prepared agenda, but in and through and alongside that agenda there is much hope and expectation that this might be a deepening engagement with the contemporary context – a Vatican II for Orthodoxy.
A recent comment to something I had written was, “How does any of this nonsense help a believer?” Well, certainly, if a person’s perspective is me-and-Jesus in my little true, Bible-believing congregation, then maybe stuff like Orthodox, or Anglican, or Roman Catholic all does look like “nonsense” which doesn’t “help a believer”. But if you understand being a Christian as being part of the one Body of Christ, the “One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church”, where we all affect each other, and together our service and witness in God’s world, then, yes, maybe there is more going on there than how does this help ME? Just when religion is often being (ab)used for nationalism, we need voices, signs, and sacraments that cross national and ethnic boundaries (rather than, in the minds of the watching world, reinforcing them). Furthermore, Orthodoxy has a treasure and tradition of spirituality that we are hungry for – and it needs translating into our contemporary context.
Let us pray for the planned, historic meeting of Orthodox churches, the “Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church”.